WASHINGTON — As NASA gears up a decade-long effort to return samples from Mars, some scientists are worried that the campaign may not leave any funding available for other robotic missions to the planet.
The only exception is Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (EscaPADE), a proposed smallsat mission to study the interaction of the solar wind with the Martian atmosphere that NASA selected in June as part of a new planetary science smallsat program.
That’s led to concerns that Mars sample return is pushing out other research that scientists want to perform at Mars.
Later in the meeting, scientists asked NASA officials in attendance about options to address this, such as flying additional science instruments on the sample return lander and orbiter missions launching in 2026.
Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, said NASA did consider flying additional science payloads on those missions early in their development.
However, he argued that didn’t fit into the “lean” Mars sample return architecture announced nearly two years ago by Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administration for science, which seeks to perform sample return as quickly and as inexpensively as possible.
Those sample return missions face “very, very intense propulsive demands” to get to Mars and back.